IDEO Seminars


We currently offer three seminars:

  1. A general seminar, devoted to the Arab-Muslim culture. About two sessions monthly, either in Arabic, or French or English. Free of charge and open to all. Subscribe here to receive the invitations. Click here to read the reports of the previous sessions.
  2. A seminar devoted to contemporary human sciences. One session monthly, in Arabic. Registration and payment of fees before attendance. Registration date will be announced on our Facebook page by September of this year. See here the program 2016—2017.
  3. A seminar of Islamic Studies for the French-speaking students at al-Azhar University. Click here to read the reports of the previous sessions. This seminar is organized as part of the cooperation between us and al-Azhar University.

Excavation of an Umayyad castle

Jean-Baptiste Humbert

Archaeologist at the Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem

icon-calendar 2 May 2017

Archeology consists of luck and surprises. By searching for traces of the Aramean people (often mentioned in the Bible, but not well known), Jean-Baptiste Humbert, OP became interested in the site of Mafraq in the north of Jordan in 1986.

An initial excavation revealed traces of a much more recent occupation on the site:  a palace of the Umayyad period, whose furnishings found on location displayed the brilliant decor of a great cosmopolitan civilization (objects coming from Armenia, Egypt, Yemen or Syria), still marked by the Byzantine administration of the previous period.

A particularly remarkable piece was a brazier made of bronze with an often erotic décor. This is consistent with ornaments of the Umayyad Palace in Jericho (irbat al-Mafgar, or Hisham’s Palace), and shows a side of this early Islamic civilization far different from the conventional image. This perhaps may explain in part why research was discontinued.

An epistemological shift: From Sunna to Šarīʿa and the breach of modern times

Rocio Daga Portillo

Professor of Islamology at Munich University

icon-calendar  28 mars 2017

It is striking to note that in the Qurʾān and the oldest texts the term Sunna is used more often than the term Šarīʿa in order to mean the law. The word Sunna used to refer to the oral law transmitted by the tradition and the forefathers. For Christian and Muslim authors, Sunna it is part of the non written revelation. Starting with the eleventh century, an epistemological shift happened: Sunna was canonized as a written text and the word Šarīʿa takes the meaning of the Islamic law, along to the expression aḥkām al-islām. Modern authors such as Ḥasan al-Bannā and Sayyid Quṭb progressively used the term Šarīʿa to refer to the corpus of written laws.

Rationality and Affectivity in Religious and Extremist Discourse: The Model of Fraternity

A closed seminar al-Azhar University and the IDEO

  25 March 2017 

On March 25th, the second meeting between the IDEO and the DEIF (Department of Islamic Studies in French) in the School of Languages and Translation (for Men) at Al-Azhar University was held. The meeting focused on “Rationality and Affectivity in Religious and Extremist Discourses: The Model of Fraternity,” which meant to delve deeper into topic launched at the first meeting, “extremism,” by discussing the specific religious value of “fraternity.”

The first lecture, given by Hazem al-Rahmany, a student of DEIF, began by giving an overview of the call to a universal fraternity as found in the fundamental texts of Judaism, Christianism, and Islam. He compared this “cosmic call” to the current institutional dialogues. If those of Vatican (John Paul II, Pope Francis) or the sheikh’s of Al-Azhar (Aḥmad aṭ-Ṭayyib, Mustafa al-Marāġī) were to pursue this perspective, extremist organizations such as Daesh would be characterized as in contradiction to this “call”, as they represent a restrictive fraternity which excludes non-believers, even members of the same biological family.

The second lecture was given by Hind Amin, a teaching assistant in the faculty of Human Sciences, and holds Master’s Degree in Translation after her translation of the book Le Terrorisme, by Arnaud Blin. Hind concentrated on the question, “Does Religious Discourse Lead to Extremism?” She presented four mechanisms of religious discourse: (1) the mix between religion and thought, (2) the return to a primary universal principle, (3) foundations based on sacred ancestors and (4) peremptory statements or authoritative arguments. She then proposed an argument: extremist discourse has its origins in the revolutionary ideologies of the twentieth century as taken up by decolonization movements. Islamism is situated in this general historical continuity, and has been strengthened through specific causes found the Arabic world (The question of Palestine, the Iranian Revolution, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan).

The third lecture was given by Rémi, a member of IDEO. He presented a historical study of “fraternity” and its uses in the West since its Greek origins, which already contained a duality between limitations on a community (the “city”) and universalism (first the Stoics, then the Neo-Pythagoreans). In the developments of Christianity, where relations were rooted in the “home of Spirit” and calls for a “new creation”, saw the sense of the fraternity shrinking from Christian communities to congregations only. The idea of “fraternity” then underwent the criticism of Luther who, however, failed to re-universalize it, confining it to a “holy fraternity in baptism”. It is the pietism of Johan Arndt which, in the seventieth century, returns to a spiritual fraternity, and in the end be secularized by the Freemasons and the French Revolution. Rémi then proposed a Christian theology of fraternity. By distinguishing an original “fraternal love,” he used the fratricidal quarrels of the Bible to show that this love is not original, but rather must always to be built. It is a reality of the Kingdom of Heaven of which is necessary to be prepared for and to build. Rémi was then finally able to make a climactic point which showed how fraternity was negated in nationalist thinking: religious discourse affirms fraternity as a Divine grace which must be realized everywhere; extremist discourse hoards it and distributes it selectively.

The discussion that followed was very rich, thorough, critical, and by the admission of all, was a sign of the creation of a truly common reflection. One of the points of departure was if “siblings” could be utilized as a model of fraternity: Is fraternal love an origin to be found, or is it an eschatological aim? Is Cain imprinted, by nature, with envious hate, or is it a disfigurement of an original purity of siblings? Are the brothers in a relationship of love or necessity? Should fraternity really be used as the model of the universal love-relationship? Is there not a paradox in the pretense to a universal fraternity, knowing that the solidarity it demands risks being totally dissolved? Is not the reference to an original family (implied in the idea of “fraternity”), like the concept of heritage, simply a conservatism that fears a confrontation with modernity which promotes the contrary: the self-determination of the thinking subject and of the political community?

Cooperation with the University of al-Azhar

On November 27, 2016, we had the pleasure to finally sign a cooperation agreement with al-Azhar University, with their two French sections, one in the Faculty of Language and Translation (for men) and one in the Faculty of Human Sciences (for women). Negotiations had been ongoing since March 2015. The friendship and perseverance of the students and teachers were stronger than the administrative and ideological reservations. We will now be able to plan activities in common.

The first two meetings of the steering committee, established by a cooperative agreement between the University of al-Azhar and the IDEO, took place on January 11th and 14th.  We have agreed to organize a monthly seminar to address “extremism: history, definition, and diagnosis”. In a second phase, we would like to plan common activities to meet the challenge of extremism.

The first edition of the commentary of al-Tilimsānī on ʿUmar ibn al-Fāriḍ’s poem

Giuseppe Scattolin

Professor of Sufism and Islamology

With Mr. ʿAbd al-Samīʿ Salāma, editor of manuscripts at the Egyptian National Library

 14 february 2017

The  commentary of al-Tilimsānī (d. 690/1291) on ʿUmar ibn al-Fāriḍ’s (d. 632/1235) poem entitled al-Tāʾiyya al-kubrā is one of the oldest commentaries of this poem, after the one by Saʿīd al-Dīn al-Farġānī (d. 699/1300). Al-Farġānī and al-Tilimsānī lived at the same period in Konya and were both disciples of Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Qūnawī (d. 673/1274), the favorite disciple of Muḥyī al-Dīn Ibn ʿArabī (d. 638/1240). This commentary therefore clarifies the beginnings of the Šuru al-akbariyya series on Ibn al-Farīḍ’s dīwān.

Giuseppe Scattolin and ʿAbd al-Samīʿ Salāma edited this commentary according to the only known manuscript (Dār al-Kutub 1328 Taṣawwuf Ṭalʿat). It clearly appears from the text that al-Tilimsānī took advantage of his commentary on the ʾiyya al-kubrā to criticize some of al-Farġānī’s ideas, at the expense of the text of the ʾiyya and Ibn al-Farīḍ’s positions on Sufism.

The oldest manuscripts of the Qurʾān

Emilio Platti

IDEO, Professor Emeritus of the Catholic University of Leuven

 January 24, 2017

Following the discovery of extremely old manuscripts of the Qurʾān, and the Birmingham folios having been dated between 568 and 645 AD (56 before Hiǧra and 25 after) with Carbon 14 techniques, scholars largely refuse today the late dating of the earliest copies of the Qurʾān proposed for example by John Wansbrough in his book entitled Quranic studies (Oxford University Press, 1977). See also Patricia Crone and Michael Cook who suggested that there was no indication of the existence of the Qurʾān before the end of the 1st/7th century (Hagarism, Cambridge University Press, 1977). It now seems that a better dating should be closer to the middle of the 1st/7th century, or even earlier.

The discovery in 1972 of very old Qurʾānic manuscripts in Ṣanʿāʾ elicited new studies, and the ultraviolet techniques that are now available revealed that one of the codices is actually a palimpsest, i.e. it contains an older text that has been washed away and replaced by a later one. A first edition of this older text was published by Behnam Sadeghi and Mohsen Goudarzi in Der Islam 87 (2010) under the title “Ṣanʿāʾ 1 and the origin of the Qurʾān” and an analysis of the manuscript was published between 2008 and 2014 by Elizabeth Puin under the title “Ein früher Koranpalimpsest aus Ṣanʿāʾ”. A new edition of the text is due to be published on February 28, 2017 by Asma Hilali at the Oxford University Press under the title The Sanaa palimpsest. Unfortunately, these two editions only contain the text of the 36 folios from the manuscript of Dār al-Maḫṭūṭāt (Ṣanʿāʾ) and not the 40 other folios of the same codex that were found recently in al-Maktaba al-Šarqiyya (also in Ṣanʿāʾ).

Interestingly, this older version that has been washed away seems to be, until now, the only one among all the copies of the Qurʾān to differ from the ʿUṯmānic canonical version. After the ʿUṯmānic unification of the Qurʾānic text, variant versions have indeed been erased and replaced by the canonical text. The Ṣanʿāʾ palimpsest is a convincing proof that different versions from the time of the Pophet’s companions did actually exist, a fact that was common knowledge in the Islamic medieval tradition represented among others by Ibn Abī Dāwūd’s book Kitāb al-maṣāḥif.

Archeology and water in medieval Morocco

Thomas Soubira

Archeologist, PhD student in Toulouse University

 December 19, 2016

The archeological site of Sijilmasa is being excavated by a French Moroccan team. This “harbour” of transsaharian trade between the 8th and the 15th centuries has remarkable hydrolic archeological remnants that can be observed on the entire excavation zone: water harvesting, transportation, storage, and disposal of sewage water. All this equipement reveal a creative human effort and a great diversity of techniques used to manage such a precious resource in this arid zone.

Located in the Tafilalt lowland, this site is inhabited since prehistoric times. The city of Sijilmasa—or, probably rather an agglomerate of fortified houses—was founded around the mid-8th century by the Berber tribe of the Banū Midrār, at the convergence point of many caravan routes. In the beginning of the 16th century, Leo Africanus (d. 957/1550) describes it as a ruined city.

At the end of the 18th century, this very oasis zone is also the cradle of the Alaouite dynasty, that still rules Morocco today. The site of Sijilmasa was only preserved from destruction because it was used as the burial site of the Alaouites.

Reflection on the argument from cannibalism in Islamic theology

Eric van Lit

PhD in Islamic studies

 December 13, 2016

seminar-ericA little problem keeps popping up century after century, in the writings of all kinds of Muslim theologians (80 to 90 authors have been identified so far); what happens if one person were to eat another person, can they both have bodily resurrection?

The first occurrence of this theological question is to be found long before the advent of Islam, in Athenagoras’ De resurrectione in the second century and Augustin (fifth century) does not hesitate to call it the strongest argument against bodily resurrection. It is also discussed by Thomas Aquinas and many medieval christian theologians. Continue reading Reflection on the argument from cannibalism in Islamic theology

Al-Fārābī’s “fourth philosophy”

Aziz Hilal

PhD in Arabic philosophy

icon-calendar October 25, 2016

farabi25oct2016In his Kitāb al-ǧadal, al-Fārābī (d. 339/950) mentions a “fourth philosophy”. What he intends with this expression is a philosophy that would be adapted to non-specialists, both technicians in a particular given art (medicine, grammar, poetry…) and simple people (al-ǧumhūr). Unlike the first three philosophies (metaphysics, practical philosophy and logic), this fourth philosophy relies on commonly admitted premises (al-mašhūrāt), i.e. on the common cultural and ethical heritage (“justice is better than injustice”, “usury is a sin”, “one should honor his parents”, …) In other terms, a philosopher who needs to teach truth to non-philosophers should resort to the “local sciences” that common people share. This fourth philosophy is political and changing by essence. It is fundamentally a pedagogy and thanks to it, dialectics (al-ǧadal) is not considered to be a mere preparation to philosophia perennis but indeed a self-standing philosophy.

It is only in 1986, with the publication of the three volumes of al-Fārābī’s philosophical works by Rafīq al-ʿAǧam (Dār al-Mašriq, Beirut), that the major importance of al-Fārābī as a philosopher was re-established.